Sold to the masses during a time of fear, the Patriot Act
does nothing to protect our freedom.
August 7, 2014 – It was the sixth week of my first job fresh out of college. I was still eagerly excited for each new day. Having moved stateside from a small town in Canada to finish up university and then on to the big city of Chicago, I was still in awe of America. I was working in the north building of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the corner of Madison and Wacker. It was early morning and I was on the phone with Paul Salvio from our New York office when the phone went dead.
The day was September 11, 2001. Our New York office was on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center North Tower. None of the employees who had arrived to work that day survived. It is a moment that elicits strong emotions within me to this day and I know I’m not alone.
In the days and weeks that followed, while the world came together to mourn those lost and to condemn those responsible, our policymakers in Washington were working feverishly to find opportunity in this tragedy. Forty-five days after 9/11, President Bush signed into law the U.S. Patriot Act.
The implication of the ironically titled bill is well described by a report published in March 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, called “Reclaiming Patriotism,” suggests that the Patriot Act “fundamentally altered the relationship Americans share with their Government.”
Politicians took advantage of a moment of extreme duress for the American people to push through a bill that not only breached the spirit of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights but also directly contradicts the rights guaranteed under the 1st and 4th Amendments. The Patriot Act gave powers to the executive branch of our government it was never meant to have. Such restriction of powers was mandated by the founding fathers through the legal framework of which this nation is governed; a legal framework of which each legislator is sworn to uphold upon taking office.
The ACLU’s 2009 report provides an interesting and unintended perspective on the fundamental dangers of the Patriot Act because it was published prior to revelations made by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Note the following excerpt from the ACLU 2009 report:
“Worse, it authorizes the government to engage in this expanded domestic spying in secret, with few, if any, protections built in to ensure these powers are not abused, and little opportunity for Congress to review whether the authorities it granted the government actually made Americans any safer.” ͥ
And so, we see, concerns about Patriot Act abuses at the time were only hypothetical and thus easily and reassuringly refuted by those in charge of the surveillances being done under the authority of the Patriot Act. Snowden later revealed these very abuses to be absolutely taking place and at alarming rates, suggesting the abuses were not anomalies but status quo.
Many of the surveillance programs revealed by Snowden are part of subsequent legislative bills that fall under the umbrella and authority of rights granted by the Patriot Act. In a sense it has become the “Pandora’s box” against the rights and freedoms of the American people. Since the Patriot Act opened the floodgates, we’ve had a steady stream of bills further expanding the (illegal) powers to those in charge.
The claims that these programs are unlawful are not simply laymen opinion. Several courts across the nation have heard various cases and determined that many aspects of the programs are in breach of the U.S. Constitutionͥ ͥ And yet, no one has been prosecuted and the programs under the Patriot Act not only continue but are expanding.
History and common sense tell us that those in power will always attempt to beget more power. Several independent studies prove that these programs have very little impact on protecting Americans from terrorism while the Snowden leaks evidence the wide abuses taking place for political motivations. The Patriot Act has become the enemy it claims necessitates its existence. It is the most prolific form of terrorism against the American citizenry (and many of our allies) today.
The argument so often touted by beneficiaries of the Patriot Act is that trading freedom for safety is an acceptable trade. That argument is not only invalid it is unsound. Freedom and safety are not mutually exclusive and even if they were the slippery slope aspect of such way of thinking makes it a false proposition. If you haven’t done so, you must fully examine the Snowden revelations to comprehend the extent of the tyranny authorized and enacted by the Patriot Act and its subsidiary Acts. ͥ ͥ͵ͥ ͥ ͥ
Let me bring this to a sharp point for any who have yet to feel it—a terrible thing happened to this nation on 9/11 that none of us expected ever would. We felt vulnerable for maybe the first time within the borders of our nation, the strongest nation on this earth. It changed many of us in very profound ways. At that point, in that moment, all we wanted to feel is that it would and that it could never happen again. And so we entrusted our leaders to work together on implementing policies that would ensure our freedom be safe from those who want to take it from us.
The Patriot Act was sold to Americans as a shield to defend our freedom, that it was to ensure our rights as guaranteed by our constitution and the Bill of Rights would be safe from evildoers. However, the sad reality is that our leaders took our moment of need as an opportunity to further enhance the powers of the state over the power of the people. We know this now thanks to some incredibly brave honourable Americans like Snowden who gave up their individual freedom to defend the freedom of a nation. It is on the rest of us now to stand up to the tyranny of those whose interests are narrow and selfish, whose lies and deceit represent the biggest threat to our freedom.